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‘There is a lot of work to do’: Quebec’s new Indigenous affairs minister pledges action by Christmas

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere speaks at a news conference after he was sworn in, Friday, October 9, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Lafreniere replaces Sylvie D'Amour.
Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere speaks at a news conference after he was sworn in, Friday, October 9, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Lafreniere replaces Sylvie D'Amour. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s new minister responsible for Indigenous affairs says that he is working on strengthening the province’s ties with Indigenous communities and that a new plan will be unveiled by Christmas.

Ian Lafrenière, a former high-profile Montreal police officer, said in an interview with Radio-Canada’s talkshow Tout le monde en parle on Sunday night that he has met virtually with all the chiefs of Indigenous communities since he was appointed less than two weeks ago.

“There is a lot of work to do,” he said.

Lafrenière’s helming of the portfolio comes after Sylvie D’Amours was shuffled out of Premier François Legault’s cabinet. Her performance was criticized by some communities, as well as the opposition.

READ MORE: Former high-profile Montreal police officer named new Indigenous affairs minister

Relations between some Indigenous communities and the government have struck a low point after the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was subjected to slurs by staff as she lay dying in hospital in late September. She recorded the racist insults in a video posted on Facebook before her death.

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The troubling circumstances surrounding her death have sparked a series of investigations and raised questions about how Indigenous people are treated in the province’s health-care system.

The government is trying to reset relations with Indigenous communities, though the appointment of Lafrenière has been met with both cautious optimism and concern by leaders.

READ MORE: ‘You have very big hearts’: Husband’s message to supporters after death of wife, Joyce Echaquan

Lafrenière, for his part, said on Sunday he thinks his background will help in his new role — especially in bringing about changes on the police side. The new cabinet minister added that he wants to be given the opportunity to affect change.

“Give me my chance to show you what we have for a plan,” he said.

Lafrenière did not reveal the details of his plan, but said it includes economic and tourist development.

Collective change needed

In wake of Echaquan’s death, there have been renewed calls for Quebec to recognize systemic racism — though Lafrenière has so far stuck to the premier’s line and said systemic racism doesn’t exist in the province.

The MNA for the Vachon riding said Sunday what happened at the Joliette hospital is not an isolated case, but he said those racist acts are on the part of individuals and not the system.

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“There are many other cases like this,” he said.

Lafrenière said that he is happy and humbled by his new role, but that he will never succeed in making changes on his own to mend relations with Indigenous communities.

“It is impossible,” he said. “Quebecers will have to give me a hand. We have work to do collectively.”

Click to play video 'Quebec’s new minister for Indigenous affairs minister speaks' Quebec’s new minister for Indigenous affairs minister speaks
Quebec’s new minister for Indigenous affairs minister speaks – Oct 9, 2020

— With files from the Canadian Press